Crowded, stretched world awaits 7 billionth baby

Tue Oct 25, 2011 10:39am EDT
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By Nita Bhalla

BAGHPAT, India (Reuters) - The world's 7 billionth person will be born into a population more aware than ever of the challenges of sustaining life on a crowded planet but no closer to a consensus about what to do about it.

To some demographers the milestone foreshadows turbulent times ahead: nations grappling with rapid urbanization, environmental degradation and skyrocketing demand for healthcare, education, resources and jobs.

To others, a shrinking population, not overpopulation, could be the longer-term challenge as fertility rates drop and a shrinking workforce is pushed to support social safety for an aging populace.

"There are parts of the world where the population is shrinking and in those parts of the world, they are worried about productivity, about being able to maintain a critical mass of people," Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, told Reuters.

"Then there are parts of the world where the population is growing rapidly. Many of these countries face challenges in terms of migration, poverty, food security, water management and climate change and we need to call attention to it."

The United Nations says the world's seven billionth baby will be born on October 31.

No-one knows what circumstances the baby will be born into, but India's Uttar Pradesh -- a sugarcane-producing state with a population that combines that of Britain, France and Germany, in a country expected to overtake China as the world's most populous by 2030 -- provides a snapshot of the challenges it could face.

Pinky Pawar, 25, is due to give birth in Uttar Pradesh at the end of the month and is hoping her firstborn will not join the estimated 3 billion people living on less than $2 a day, with little hope of an education or a job.   Continued...

<p>Newly born babies rest inside a ward at a hospital on the occasion of "World Population Day" in the northern Indian city Lucknow in this file picture taken July 11, 2009. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar/Files</p>